The move by Signature Travel Network to attempt to attract new and diverse talent to the travel advisor profession is a strong one at a time where there is a common perception that the field lacks a bright future. This program could bolster a trend.
Recognizing that time is of the essence for many young travel advisors seeking to maximize their earnings, Signature Travel Network’s new Embark training program is designed to help novices do just that.
The program, which takes a year to complete and is designed for those with less than one year of experience, is part of Signature University, the consortium’s web-based education platform. Embark starts with prerequisite online courses and culminates in a five-day Sales & Marketing Bootcamp at Signature’s headquarters in El Segundo, California.
The time it takes to build a travel career is often a deterrent for recent graduates saddled with student loan debt as well as for people seeking a career change, according to industry consultant Nolan Burris, who helped create the program for Signature.
“They would get a little turned off when they figured out it could take three to five years for them to be productive,” Burris said. “That doesn’t work for most Millennials. They need to make decent money right away. We knew we needed to do something.”
Another goal of the Embark program is the ability to open up the industry to a more diverse group of applicants by providing a path to financial success early in the career, he added.
Embark, which costs $875 per person, is offered through Signature member agencies and is for people who are either applying for a job or who have already been hired. Some 27 advisors attended the first boot camp in October.
“The overarching goal was to help new travel advisors become as productive and successful as quickly as possible,” Burris said.
What differentiates the Embark program from traditional training paths is that the program focuses heavily on selling and marketing instead of basic travel topics such as city codes of the world, according to Burris.
“Its focus is 90 percent on becoming a very productive sales consultant,” he said. “Selling and consulting are not the same thing. They are related, but are two different skill sets. We teach them to market and sell their value, not just selling cruises.”
Among those who attended the first boot camp is 36-year-old Brie Kuiper, a former banker who had left the workforce for seven years to stay home with her pre-school children. While making the decision last year to join the travel industry, it was with trepidation.
“When I was thinking of being a travel advisor I thought, nah, that’s kind of a dying profession and nobody is going to do that anymore,” Kuiper said. “I was wrong. There’s a whole other world out there.”
Kuiper, a home-based agent for Legendary World in Phoenix, said the Embark program took away a lot of the anxiety she faced in starting out.
“I feel like I was definitely more nervous to market myself and approach people before I went to Embark because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle the conversation,” she said. “I came back from Embark with more drive and more confidence to ask people for their business.”
Like Kuiper, Sara Killian is another member of the first Embark boot camp who made a major life change to become a travel advisor.
Killian, who works with Legacy Travel in Plano, Texas, had been working as a sixth-grade teacher in Austin, Texas, when she took a trip to Morocco with a few fellow teachers in March.
“It was just a completely life-changing experience,” she said.
So life-changing that Killian quickly decided that would be her last year teaching.
She found a job at the Plano-based agency, told her husband about her dream of becoming a travel advisor and soon after packed up the house.
“Here I am. We uprooted ourselves in June and moved here,” Killian said.
The owners of Legacy Travel brought up the idea of attending Embark to her during the first few months on the job. Killian jumped on it.
“People say isn’t the industry suffering from the Internet and people booking on their own? The short answer, I tell them, is no,” Killian said. “Part of the program is understanding the value that we have as advisors.”
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Photo credit: Sara Killian, a travel advisor with Legacy Travel of Plano, Texas, is pictured at the Huatulco development in Mexico. Killian took part in Signature Travel Networks agent training bootcamp. Legacy Travel